What is Diphtheria?

Diphtheria is a contagious bacterial disease caused by bacteria called Corynebacterium diphtheriae that produce toxins.

It mainly affects the tonsils, throat, nose, and skin. Adults over 60 and children under 5 have a greater risk of getting it. Malnourished people living in crowded or unsanitary surroundings and unvaccinated people can get infected. Diphtheria still has a high prevalence in many countries with insufficient access to healthcare facilities or vaccinations.

Diphtheria antitoxin and medications are one option for treating diphtheria.


Diphtheria symptoms usually show up two to five days after the infection. While some people have mild symptoms similar to the common cold, others don't feel any symptoms at all. The tonsils and throat have a thick, gray coating, the most prominent and typical sign of diphtheria. Other typical signs include:

As the infection worsens, other signs and symptoms might appear, including:

Diphtheria of the skin, also known as cutaneous diphtheria, can occur if you have poor personal hygiene or reside in a tropical climate. Skin-related diphtheria frequently results in ulceration and redness in the afflicted region.

When to see a doctor?

Consult a doctor if you or your child have come into contact with someone with diphtheria infection. Make an appointment if you're unsure whether the child has received the diphtheria vaccine. Ensure that your immunizations are up to date.


The bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheriae causes diphtheria, and it is transmitted by respiratory secretions due to coughing,sneezing, or laughing. Diphtheria is very contagious and spreads quickly, especially in crowded environments.

Additionally, touching infected sores or contaminated items, such as tissues, towels, or countertops, can transmit diphtheria. Those who are carriers can infect unvaccinated people, and can spread the disease for up to four weeks.

Risk Factors

Risk factors are being unvaccinated, living in poor sanitation areas, etc.

The risk of getting diphtheria is high if you:

  • Diphtheria is especially common in areas with crowded habitation and poor sanitation.
  • Women are more prone to getting this infection than males due to their lower vaccination rates.
  • Traveling to other regions with high prevalence of the disease raises the risk.
  • Adults older than 60 who are unvaccinated have a higher chance of contracting the illness.
  • Individuals having HIV/AIDS are more likely to get diphtheria disease.


The complication of diphtheria is a respiratory failure as a result of airway obstruction. The bacterium's toxin can reach the heart, kidney, muscles, and liver and trigger several serious complications, as follows:


The diphtheria vaccine for children is a combination of tetanus and acellular pertussis vaccine to form a triple vaccine known as DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, acellular pertussis).

The Tdap vaccine (tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis vaccine), a booster dose, is recommended for adolescents. Health officials recommend that all adults receive at least one dose of Tdap. After that dose, booster doses Tdap or Td (tetanus-diphtheria vaccine) can be taken if required.


The diagnosis includes:

  • Physical examination and medical history : Symptom diagnosis such as a gray or green membrane in the throat and a review of the patient's medical record, including vaccination status and travel history, help doctors determine whether the patient has diphtheria. The gray or green membrane in the throat indicates the presence of the disease.
  • Throat Culture : Throat swabs samples collected from the throat are sent to a lab for diagnosis.
  • Toxin testing : The test detects bacterial toxins in the blood. The tests are:
    • PCR testing :
    • Elek test
    • Enzyme immunoassay (EIA) test


Diphtheria requires prompt medical attention; any delay in treatment can result in life-threatening consequences.

If diphtheria disease is suspected, treatment starts immediately before the laboratory results are received. Treatment may include:

  • Hospitalization
  • Patient isolation to prevent disease transmission
  • Taking antibiotics to treat the bacterial infection
  • Diphtheria antitoxin
  • Other medications lower the risk of adverse reactions to the vaccine.
  • If needed, surgery to clear the gray membrane in the throat.
  • Treatment of complications
  • Bed rest for more than six weeks, depending on the severity of the infection.

Dos and Don’ts

If you suspect you or a member of your family has diphtheria, seek medical help immediately. As with any other condition, early treatment has the best chance of success. Antibiotics and a diphtheria antitoxin are used as diphtheria treatments.

Take diphtheria vaccine DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, acellular pertussis). Come in close contact with sick people.
Keep yourself isolated till the condition subsides. Avoid any sudden changes and persisting symptoms in the body.
Take antibiotics prescribed by the doctor. Skip the appointment scheduled with your doctor.
Avoid traveling to high risk countries. Eat processed, junk and spicy foods.
Get completely immunized before traveling to a place where Diphtheria is common.Avoid washing your hands if you get into contact with an infected person.

Follow the dos and don'ts for diphtheria disease to get immediate medical attention and decrease the probability of severe symptoms and complications.

Diphtheria Care at Medicover Hospitals

At Medicover hospitals, we have the best team of General Physicians who treat Diphtheria with utmost precision. Our highly qualified healthcare professionals treat illnesses and their symptoms using the most up-to-date medical tools, techniques, and technology. We use a multidisciplinary approach to treat Diphtheria to give patients complete treatment and respond to their medical requirements for a quicker and more lasting recovery.


Find Our Specialists

Book Free Doctor Appointment

Make an appointment just in few minutes - Call Us Now

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is Diphtheria?

Diphtheria is a bacterial infection affected by Corynebacterium diphtheriae. It primarily affects the throat and upper respiratory tract, leading to the formation of a thick, grayish membrane in the throat that can make breathing difficult.

2. How is Diphtheria transmitted?

Diphtheria is very infectious and is mostly transmitted by respiratory droplets produced by infected people when they cough or sneeze. It can also be spread by contact with infected objects or surfaces.

3. What are the common symptoms of Diphtheria?

Common symptoms include a sore throat, difficulty swallowing, fever, weakness, and the characteristic grayish membrane in the throat. Diphtheria can also lead to complications affecting the heart and nervous system.

4. Who is at risk of contracting Diphtheria?

While anyone can contract diphtheria, individuals who are not vaccinated or inadequately vaccinated are at a higher risk. Travelers to areas with diphtheria outbreaks may also be at risk.

5. Is Diphtheria preventable?

Yes, diphtheria is preventable through vaccination. The DTaP vaccine (for children) and Tdap vaccine (for adolescents and adults) provide immunity against diphtheria, among other diseases.

6. How is Diphtheria diagnosed?

Diphtheria is diagnosed through laboratory tests that detect the presence of the diphtheria toxin or the bacteria in samples taken from the throat, nose, or skin lesions.

7. What is the treatment for Diphtheria?

Diphtheria is treated with antibiotics, such as penicillin or erythromycin, to eliminate the bacteria. In severe cases, hospitalization may be necessary for supportive care, including monitoring and respiratory assistance.

8. Can Diphtheria lead to complications?

Yes, Diphtheria can lead to serious complications, including myocarditis (heart inflammation), neuropathy (nerve damage), and airway obstruction, which can be life-threatening if not treated promptly.

9. Is there a booster vaccine for Diphtheria for adults?

Yes, adults can receive booster shots of the Td vaccine to maintain immunity against diphtheria. In some cases, the Tdap vaccine may also be recommended.

10. What should I do if I suspect I or someone I know has Diphtheria?

If you suspect diphtheria, seek immediate medical attention. Isolate the infected person to prevent the spread of the disease, and inform healthcare professionals about your concerns so that appropriate diagnostic tests and treatment can be administered.

Whats app Health Packages Book an Appointment Second Opinion